Once concentrated in suburban office parks, technology companies are increasingly moving into the urban core. Tech startups and large companies alike are moving to urban centers and transforming physical spaces, creating jobs and enhancing local economies. Silicon Valley and Kendall Square and Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle are just a few urban centers that that have benefitted from growth in the technology industry.
But tech companies are also being accused of causing gentrification. There has been some backlash from urban communities as tech companies fail to engage the existing community, explains the New York Times’ Allison Arieff.
One of the greatest opportunities to engage the community within the urban core is to train its residents for new technology jobs. Many tech jobs are well-paying and do not require a four-year degree. For instance, the New York City Department of Small Business Services recently launched a NYC Web Development Fellowship, which trains low-income residents through an intensive but no-cost program, ultimately landing graduates jobs that pay over $65,000 annually.
While the growth of programs like these are promising, so too are the initiatives that seek to support tech entrepreneurs already living in underrepresented communities.
Smarter in the City is the newest Boston-based tech accelerator. In a city with several incubators, accelerators and coworking locations, Smarter in the City stands out for its focus on helping inner city residents develop their technology skills, programs and mobile apps. The accelerator will be at the heart of Dudley Square in Roxbury, one of Boston’s lowest-income neighborhoods. Already, the accelerator is drawing its first cohort from the Roxbury community.
Accelerating companies will receive six months of free workspace, professional mentorship, educational curricula, office amenities like a shared conference room and access to many licensed software products. Companies include Storymap Solutions, which is developing a web-based tool for heritage storytelling using maps; and Grand Interactive, an app development agency specializing in biotech and mobile healthcare products.
In an interview with Smarter in the City founder and recent MIT graduate, Gilad Rosenzweig, he explains that Dudley Square was pretty much a no-brainer.
“Dudley has a lot of momentum. The Ferdinand Building is being redeveloped, the Boston Public Schools’ administrative offices will be moving there. As opposed to underserved neighborhoods like Fields Corner or Grove Hall, redevelopment is already well underway,” he explains. This coupled with the fact that it’s only “a ten-minute walk to the South End, Northeastern University and the Orange Line” means that it has all of the qualities of a good business district.
There’s also a very young population in the Roxbury neighborhood—a young population that’s already in tune with technology, and who are some of the largest users of new technology.
Urban economist Edward Glaeser of Harvard University echoes Rosenzweig’s assessment of the neighborhood’s potential. “Dudley Square is not rich, but it has promise,” he writes in a recent Boston Globe op-ed. “It has plenty of space for development. While Boston is marked by its large employers, only one of the 288 business establishments in Dudley Square’s zip code has more than 250 employees.” At ICIC, we couldn’t agree more. We moved to Dudley Square in Roxbury two years ago.
Creating a technology cluster that is inclusive is not necessarily intuitive. ICIC recently held a What Works Webinar to highlight the various approaches for maximizing the impact of inner city growth clusters. Learn more here.
What has become evident is that there are, indeed, ways to ensure that the innovation economy – from technology, to healthcare, to advanced manufacturing and the like – provides significant opportunities for revitalizing communities like Dudley Square while simultaneously uplifting the underserved residents who call it home.